HELENA — With their proverbial backs against the wall, the Helena Bighorns responded with a 5-1 victory Saturday night at Helena Ice Arena to qualify for the Fraser Cup national tournament in Chicago.
The Bighorns were propelled by the performance of their goalie Alexander Rodgers, who played 60 minutes and saved 31 of 32 shots send his way by the Americans.
The Bighorns, who lost the second, of the best-of-3 series to Great Falls 4-0 in Game 2, didn’t wasn’t anytime asserting their dominance in the deciding game on their home ice.
Bighorns coach Bob Richards had talked with his team prior to the start of the game, and dug for an inspiration pep talk.
"At the end (of the game) I talked to them, and we played well," Richards said. "Things didn't go our way last night, and I told them that had no bearing on our team's bottom line, and our talent would work harder."
Helena responded by getting an early two-goal lead, which they didn’t relinquish throughout the entire game, as they applied constant pressure on the Great Falls goalie.
Bighorns player Elliot Plourde scored the first goal with 6:38 gone in the period. Helena extended it's lead when Ian Zaleski scored a goal with 8:53 remaining in the first period.
"I know once we scored that first goal that we were going to win it," An elated Rogers said after the Bighorns scored the first goal.
After the Americans Jens Juliussen scored a goal with 3:19 remaining the in second period, the Bighorns scored three consecutive unanswered goals to ice the game.
Darren Donovan scored a goal with 6:47 gone in the second, and with 18:21 gone in the second the Bighorns increased its lead with a goal by Hayden Seitz.
Nicholas Noel scored an additional goal with 1:29 gone in the third period to conclude the scoring for both teams.
The Bighorns, who went the distance in their two previous hockey series between the Missoula Junior Bruins and Great Falls Americans, hope to carry momentum into entering the Fraser Cup Tournament, a national tournament set to begin Chicago on Wednesday.
This is first-ever Fraser Cup the Bighorns have ever qualified for since switching over to the NA3HL level.
American coach Greg Sears said losing two of his team's top players in the first period was hard for his team to overcome.
"They just knocked our best guy out of the game in the first period," Sears said.
The Bighorns will begin their travel to Chicago on Sunday morning, and will prepare for the Fraser Cup on the road. They'll have two days to get settled.